I post on Facebook, from time to time, questions to start discussions. Sometimes, they are pointed and sometimes, I’m just poking the bear. Lately, I’ve been thinking about a certain situation that may require something of a less-nice Christianity. There is, I think, a fine line between being an arse and setting things right, although they look about the same from certain points of view. Because of this situation, I posted a question about Wesley’s First General Rule.
The first general rule of Wesley’s societies was to Do No Harm. You can read the history of these rules here. The rule is not simply, however, Do No Harm, but is given something of a perimeter:
First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as:
- The taking of the name of God in vain.
- The profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein or by buying or selling.
- Drunkenness: buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in cases of extreme necessity.
- Slaveholding; buying or selling slaves.
- Fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother; returning evil for evil, or railing for railing; the using many words in buying or selling.
- The buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty.
- The giving or taking things on usury—i.e., unlawful interest.
- Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates or of ministers.
- Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us.
- Doing what we know is not for the glory of God, as:
- The putting on of gold and costly apparel.
- The taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus.
- The singing those songs, or reading those books, which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God.
- Softness and needless self-indulgence.
- Laying up treasure upon earth.
- Borrowing without a probability of paying; or taking up goods without a probability of paying for them.
Do No Harm is not about the way we treat people, specifically, but about avoiding the practice of sin — albeit, this does in fact call us to treat others a specific way. What is often quoted, however, is the idea that we have to be nice, to not judge, or otherwise refrain from hurting someone’s feelings. This is, simply, not the case. Do No Harm is about addressing the things that separate us from God — sin.
This is why Wesley could expel those in his societies who were doing harm — harm being those practices deemed counter to the holiness of the society; harm being that which those people expelled were doing to themselves and to the society as a whole.
Our misuse of it has hurt the United Methodist Church. You will often hear people quote only those three words — do no harm — as if it is a specific instruction to be nice to others, to avoid offering offense at all, and to refrain from judging (almost the exact prohibition encountered in the Softness and needless self-indulgence bit). We are too nice for our own good, it seems, because in treating the first general this way, we have lost the goal —
It is expected of all who continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation
Sometimes, being nice is counter to the evidence needed in regards to the desire of salvation — and prevents us from accomplishing both the remaining General Rules. How are we to take care of the household of faith if we have first done harm?